BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

Two months after OpenAI’s ChatGPT set the internet ablaze, China’s search engine behemoth, Baidu, is aiming to launch its own artificial intelligence chatbot—which could kick off a new technology arms race between the powerhouse countries.

As Bloomberg reported late Sunday, Baidu is working on a ChatGPT-style application native to Baidu’s Google-esque search engine. It will roll out in March, a source familiar with the matter told the publication. With the new tool, Baidu users will be served conversational replies to queries, which can offer specific answers to specific questions, much like ChatGPT does.

Baidu representatives did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

According to Bloomberg’s source, the system will be built with China’s “ERNIE” natural language processor—an acronym for Enhanced Representation through Knowledge Integration. For years, Baidu has trained Ernie to rival Google’s Bert, a so-called transformer algorithm whose capabilities have been kept hidden from the public, deep within private development laboratories. That’s in contrast to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which was made available to anybody on the internet in November.

Baidu named its brainchild after the Sesame Street character Ernie, who is Bert’s best friend in the popular children’s franchise—a nod to the inside joke of many super-smart machine-learning models being dubbed as fuzzy puppets and Muppets from kids’ television shows (see: Elmo, Grover, Big Bird, and Kermit).

Baidu’s stock jumped over 5% on the news.

It comes after ChatGPT has taken the world by storm, with millions of users posting examples of the program’s astounding grasp of human speech. One Twitter user asked it to write a letter to her son explaining that Santa Claus isn’t real, and that parents tell such stories out of love. Another asked it to provide instructions for removing a peanut butter sandwich from a VCR, crafted in the literary style of the King James Bible. Even in China—where a Great Firewall blocks many U.S. tech exports, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon—internet users shared viral screenshots of ChatGPT-generated text.

Much of the detail surrounding Baidu’s forthcoming chatbot is still murky. Baidu, as well as other tech giants like China’s famed Tsinghua University, have long tinkered with AI transformers, but have yet to launch a star product. But if the new tool becomes a formidable competitor to ChatGPT, it could be China’s first strong entrant into the global battle to dominate AI—opening yet another war zone between two countries that are already jostling for ground in semiconductor engineering, quantum computing, and space exploration, among other fields.